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Four stylish on-ear headphones worth hearing

R. Matthew Ward | May 7, 2013
Comfortable, portable, on-ear headphones aren’t hard to find, but ones that sound and look great are. We tested four head-turning models that claim to satisfy your ears.

V-Moda includes two cloth-wrapped and Kevlar-reinforced cables in the package: Each has an inline microphone, but one of them features an Apple-style three-button inline remote and a microphone, while the other uses a generic one-button inline remote for use with non-Apple devices. The current version of the M--80 (v2) separates the microphone from the remote module, positioning the microphone higher--and closer to your mouth--with the remote lower on the cable to make it easier to see and use. Either cable attaches to the left earpiece via a 3.5mm miniplug. The company sells replacements for the three-button cable for $20, or the one-button version for $15; an audio-only cable (with no microphone or remote) is available for $12.

Also included with the M--80 is a hard-plastic "Exoskeleton" case whose design suggests a Klingon forehead or the boney torso of Ridley Scott's Alien. Beyond its sci-fi trappings, the case features interior elastic bands for holding cables. V-Moda offers a two-year warranty against manufacturing defects, along with a 50-percent discount on a replacement headset in the event of user-inflicted damage or out-of-warranty failure.

Though the M--80's earpads don't feel as luxurious as the P5's, or even the Navigator's, I found these headphones to be the most comfortable overall. As before, my big head caused comfort problems during longer listening sessions, in part due to the pressure of the earpieces, but that pressure also yielded impressive sound isolation--and the M--80's metal construction enables you to bend the headphone a bit to improve comfort. (Again, I would like to see more padding in the headband.) The cables give the impression of quality, though they're heavier than the other cables here. The company's three-button remote is a little bulky but easy to use.

Sonically, I found the M--80 to be the most impressive headphone of the bunch. There's a bit of bass emphasis--V-Moda's "modern-audiophile" sound is purposely designed to provide a bit of extra kick--but the bass sounds tight for a sealed headphone, and it doesn't interfere with the midrange and treble frequencies. Those frequencies are impressive, too, as the M--80 provided more detail than B&W's P5 and made me feel more involved in the music. On the other hand, some listeners may prefer the P5's smoothness, and the M--80 did have a bit more of the closed-in sound characteristic of sealed headphones. The M--80 isn't the best pair of headphones I've used, but it's the best pair of sealed, supra-aural headphones I've tried.

Speak into the mic

A microphone often seems like an afterthought in full-size headphones; but since these models are designed with portability in mind, I tested each model's inline mic. Ultimately, each works fine for occasional phone calls, though the none sounded as good as the microphone on Apple's pack-in EarPods. The Aviator's microphone sounded somewhat distant, and the V-Moda M--80's sounded particularly distant. The P3's microphone came closest to matching the excellent performance of the EarPods, followed by the SA950i.

 

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